The first day of spring

began with honeysuckle and clover,
the constants of the winter yet
rendered more redolent by the scents of September
and a bee buzzing about a flowering cactus

and ended with a downpour
that sent me rushing to the clothesline
while my son stood in his raincoat and listened
to the rain

with all things – rain, sun, bee,
child and flowers – held in the same sentence
and each given its time.

Campaign Launch – The Swelling Year…

I’m very excited to announce that my crowdfunding campaign to publish The Swelling Year is ready to go. It is live now at Pozible.com, and will be there for the next 31 days for you to donate to. Check out the campaign page to find out about project details and rewards. We’re already underway with contributions, and there’s an opportunity for me to expand the first print run for the book if I get more than the budgeted $1250. So please be generous! I’m looking forward to seeing people get on board with a project that is close to my heart and that I hope will be an encouragement to many others.

I’m also excited to share for the first time the cover art designed by the talented Matthew Duncan. Find out more about his work here.

bookcover

Little Flowers

“Not too many poets has it been given…to live one of their own poems.”
(G.K. Chesterton, St Francis of Assisi)

If I would be Francis, troubadour to God,
before I can sing Creation’s canticles, I must tend
to the sleeping children in my room
and die again, again to the self
that craves to be higher than them.
Only then can poetry shine,
until then being only words.

Unexpected Grace: Ten conversion novels you should read

Sadly, literature that brings faith authentically to bear on the world is a rare thing. But here are ten novels that use the narrative of conversion to show faith and grace colliding with the ordinary, the sordid and the plain broken. Not all are by professing believers. Not all are orthodox. But all are compelling in their own way, and all make faith feel very real.

9 & 10: A Pure Clear Light and The Essence of the Thing – Madeleine St John

Sydney girl turned wry and urbane Londoner, St John was most famous for her first novel, a witty depiction of a lady’s department store, The Women in Black. But she also wrote three other novels, a kind of loose trilogy, sharing some characters, the same inner London cultured set and a darker and more cynical tone. Yet St John, a late convert, managed to take her characters just to the threshold of faith in utterly unexpected ways. Characters cheat on each other, lie, doubt, and then approach belief without even noticing themselves get there. The last novel in the trilogy, Stairway to Paradise, was the weakest but also hit the faith note with greatest subtlety. Had she lived longer, who knows how deft her touch might have grown.

8: Life After God – Douglas Coupland

A series of vignettes of post-religion North America, this early Coupland slowly arrests you with its quiet ache of longing until you cry out with its narrator, “I need God.”

7: The Death of Ivan Ilyich – Leo Tolstoy

The only Tolstoy I have finished (and amongst his shortest), Ivan Ilyich packs a punch. Mostly the death-bed resentment of a sick and bitter man who trusts no-one, including his family, this novella takes you right into the psyche of an embittered soul and leads you imperceptibly to redemption.

6: The Moviegoer – Walker Percy

Percy is a curious figure in Catholic literature. Equal parts Kierkegaardian philosopher and satirist of American culture, he sometimes seems strangely lacking in faith. Many readers may find some of his treatments of women to be uncomfortable. But his first novel is a tour-de-force examination of the modern quest for physical sensation and the discovery of grace in the sacrament of everyday life.

5: Barabbas – Pär Lagerkvist

It might be a bit much to call this a conversion novel, but this story of the man who Jesus replaced on the cross has some of the most intriguing discussions of faith that I’ve encountered in 20th century literature. A Swedish Nobel laureate, Lagerkvist explored characters touched by the cross twice in his work, via mythology in The Death of Ahaseuras and more directly in Barabbas. He wasn’t, to my knowledge, a believer, and some theological details here are dubious, but Barabbas’ life after his unexpected exchange with Christ is a fascinating reflection on what it means to be a believer and a reprobate.

4: Saint Maybe – Anne Tyler

Also not a Christian herself, Anne Tyler makes raw and unvarnished Christian faith and redemption the central force of change in this touching family drama by one of the greatest living novelists working in English.

3: Lila – Marilynne Robinson

The third in her Gilead novels, Lila is in my opinion the best. Both a delicate love story and an unpretentious, warts-and-all tale of grace at work in a wounded life, Lila tells the story of Reverend Wilmot’s much younger wife and how she came to experience and trust the love of God expressed in an unexpected person.

2: Viper’s Tangle – François Mauriac

Almost any of Mauriac’s novels could be here but I’ve picked my favourite. Mauriac’s characters are almost always ugly, mean or pathetic, and yet he always portrays them with a tenderness approaching love. The marvel of this one lies in watching the vipers’ nest within its protagonist untangle with God’s hand. Few other Christian writers have explored the depths of humanity with as much grace and honesty as Mauriac.

1: Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

When Andrew Davies adapted this book for film he said he was getting rid of the “God stuff”, which is rather like taking the running out of Chariots of Fire. He failed, because God is central to this novel. All he managed to get rid of was the conversion, which was like taking out Eric Liddell’s gold medal. Don’t watch the film. Read the book instead.

Why Lent makes sense to me (and why I need the other seasons too)

The Swelling Year

I grew up very Protestant. So Protestant that I remember asking my RE teacher when I was about 10, “What’s the difference between Catholics and Christians?” It was in a “Do you have any questions for your teacher?” section of the workbook, and my teacher diplomatically replied, “Ask your parents about this.” I can’t remember if I asked them or how they answered if I did. But I grew up with a clear sense that Catholics (and probably Anglicans) valued tradition more than relationship with God. As such, I saw all traditions – Lent with them – as meaningless distractions from God.

As a young adult, and a reluctant Anglican, I came to find that Lent was actually a season that fit me quite nicely. My struggles with mental illness had made me acutely aware of my own dust, and had also made me search to recover the much-needed and…

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Momentum gathering – and some exciting news

The Swelling Year

This week has seen lots of progress for The Swelling Year. I’ve finished selecting the poems and the first draft has been through its first check-over by another pair of eyes. I’ve also started the process with Lulu, the publisher I’ve chosen, and done the initial set-up of the crowdfunding campaign at Pozible. Lots of action!

Most excitingly, I’ve teed up a collaboration with my highly talented artist friend Robert Kingdom, who designed the banner for this site. Robert will be contributing some of his artwork to the project, and I’m looking forward to keeping you posted on what this will involve. In the meantime, here’s a sample of his work. Go and check out more at his website. And stay tuned for the next update!

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